Giovanni di Würzburg

Descriptio Terrae Sanctae (1160-1170)

A number of pilgrims came to the Holy Land during the period of the Crusader Kingdom. The three sanctuaries in the valley – Mary’s Tomb, the Grotto of Gethsemane and the Church of the Savior (on the site of the modern Church of the Agony) – were rebuilt by Crusader architects and were accordingly visited as part of the “sacred tour” that took pilgrims to the Mount of Olives.

The pilgrim John of Würzburg (from Franconia) brought to bear a keen eye for detail in his narrative of the traditions associated with the places he visited. He also focused his attention on the numerous Latin inscriptions that were gradually adorning the newly-rebuilt Crusader churches, and transcribed more than forty of them.

The Church of Gethsemane

“Istorum locorum distinctio, videlicet, ubi discipuli, remanserant, et ubi Dominus oraverat, manifeste in valle Josaphat apparet; nam juxta majorem ecclesiam, in qua sepultura beatae Mariae virginis, de qua postea dicemus, adhuc hodie in dextra parte introitus sui est capella cum caverna, in qua discipuli tristes et dormitantes remanserant, Domino ter secedenti ab eis et totiens redeunte. Hoc adhuc ibidem indicat pictura existens. Locus vero, ubi Dominus oravit, circumdatus est nova ecclesia, quae dicitur ecclesia salvatoris, in cujus pavimento eminent tres non operati lapides, tamquam cum trina genuflexione, ad quos lapides fit veneratio et fidelium Christi oblatio cum devotione maxima.” (caput VIII)


“These particular places, namely where the Disciples remained behind and where the Lord prayed, are plainly to be seen in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Close by the larger church, in which there is the tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of whom we will speak later on, at the present day, on the right hand of the entrance to it, there is a chapel with a cavern in which the Disciples remained sorrowful and heavy with sleep, while the Lord thrice went away from them and as many times returned to them. There is still a painting there showing this. The actual site, where the Lord prayed, is now enclosed within a new church, which is called “Church of the Savior”: on the floor three unwrought stones stand out, upon which it is said that the Lord prayed, kneeling thrice. These stones have therefore up until the present day been the object of the greatest devotion and veneration by the followers of Christ.” (Chap. 8)

Grotto of Gethsemane

“Verumtamen in praefata caverna ostenduntur quinque foramina in uno lapide, tamquam quinque digitis manus Domini impressa: Domini, dico, jam capti et a persecutoribus violenter tracti, veluti sese retinentis. Quidquid autem de hoc sit, nos procul dubio scimus, eum majoris potestatis et virtutis ampliora potuisse facere.” (caput VIII)


“In the above-mentioned cave (at Gethsemane) five marks in one stone can be seen, as if it had been imprinted with the five fingers of our Lord; of our Lord, I mean, when he had already been taken, and was holding himself back from his persecutors who were violently dragging him away from that stone. However this may be, we know without doubt that he was able to perform deeds of even much greater power and might.” (Chap. 8)

Mary’s Tomb

“Ineodem die trasmigrationis corpus beatissimae virginis Mariae cunctis duodecim apostolis Domini ex sua dispositione tunc prasentibus in ecclesiam vallis Josaphat est delatum et ibidem in medio cryptae, miro tabulatu marmoreo et egregia pictura colore vario exornatae, est honorifice sepultum, cujus sepulturae, licet corpore absente, egregia tam in tabulatu marmoreo, quam in argento et auro in modum ciborii superosita exstat structura: cui tale appositum est epigramma:


“On the day of the translation, the body of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was carried to the church in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, all the twelve Apostles of the Lord being present by divine disposition, and was buried with due honor in the middle of the crypt, which is adorned with a wondrous casing of marble and magnificent paintings in various colors. Her tomb, although her body is no longer there, is admirable both for its casing of marble and for the dome-like structure of gold and silver by which it is covered. Upon it is the following inscription:

Hic Josaphat vallis, hinc est ad sidera callis.
In Domino fulta, fuit hic Maria spulta.
Hinc exaltata coelos petit inviolata,
spes captivorum, via, lux et mater eorum.” (Chap. 17)

“Tota vallis pertinet ad coenobium in summitate ejusdem vallis supra rivum torrentis Cedron situum, juxta hortum, in quo saepe Dominus noster cum discipulis suis solebat convenire. In hujus coenobii crypta adhuc hodie ostenditur sepultura beatissimae virginis Mariae, de qua amplius dicemus”. (caput XVII)


“The whole valley belongs to the convent which stands above that same valley, near the torrent Kidron, beside the garden in which our Lord often met his disciples. In the crypt of this convent is still shown today the tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of whom we shall speak at greater length.” (Chap. 17)